Mumbai: In the last cabinet meeting before former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray resigned on 29 June, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government took three decisions involving name changes.
The former MVA government — comprising Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress — decided to change the names of Aurangabad and Osmabanad to Sambhajinagar and Dharashiv; and rechristen the under-construction Navi Mumbai International Airport the D.B. Patil International Airport.
The first two decisions have been long-pending poll agendas of the Shiv Sena while driving its Hindutva agenda in the state. The third decision was in response to a vociferous demand by locals in the Navi Mumbai airport region and also involved overturning an earlier decision taken by Shiv Sena-rebel Eknath Shinde, now Maharashtra chief minister.
Shinde, then urban development minister, had in January 2021 demanded that the airport be named after Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, and by June made a formal announcement to that effect after a resolution by the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), in charge of the airport project.
ThePrint looks at the historical and political significance of these decisions.
Also Read: What next for MVA as Uddhav govt falls? Struggle for survival, fresh strategy for BMC polls
The district was earlier called Aurangabad after the 17th-century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. His final resting place is also in Aurangabad’s Khuldabad.
Aurangzeb was said to have brutally murdered Chhatrapati Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji, in 1689 — as a result, the Shiv Sena’s demand struck a chord with a large number of Hindus, who informally started referring to Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar.
It was Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray who first demanded that the district’s name be changed to Sambhajinagar in 1988 after the Shiv Sena contested the first-ever municipal corporation election in Aurangabad city. Since then, the Sena has fought almost every election here on this agenda.
In 1995 — when the Manohar Joshi-led Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was ruling the state — the Shiv Sena, which had by then had a strong hold on the Aurangabad municipal corporation for 25 years, made its first formal attempt to rename Aurangabad. A Congress corporator, however, challenged it and the Supreme Court ordered a status quo in 1996.
Since the senior Thackeray first made the demand in the 80s, Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and its former ally BJP have always referred to the district as Sambhajinagar.
After the two parties split and the Thackeray-led MVA came to power, the BJP would often use the issue to target the Sena, accusing Sena of being no longer committed to Hindutva because of its alliance with secular parties Congress and the NCP.
The Congress has been traditionally opposed to the name change demand, and leaders had also strongly objected to former chief minister Thackeray referring to Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar in official communication. However, Congress ministers part of the MVA government did not oppose the cabinet decision.
Aurangabad, now Sambhajinagar, has had older names too. It was founded in 1610 by African slave-turned-military leader Malik Ambar as the new capital for the Ahmednagar sultanate and was known as Khirki back then. In 1626, after Ambar died, his son Fateh Khan named it Fatehnagar. It fell to the Mughals by 1633, and 20 years later, Aurangzeb made it his capital, changing its name to Aurangabad.
Like Sambhajinagar for Aurangabad, the Shiv Sena has also always referred to Osmanabad as Dharashiv. Thackeray used the name Dharashiv in his official communication in his official communications too when he was chief minister.
The name Osmanabad was after Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last ruler of Hyderabad. Some say that the place was called Dharashiv much before it became Osmanabad after the Dharashiv caves about 8 km from the city in the Balaghat mountains. The caves date back to the middle of the seventh century AD.
The name, Dharashiv, is significant in the city’s folklore too. It says that a demon named Dharasur lived here once upon a time, and the Goddess Saraswati is believed to have killed him, earning her the title ‘Dharasur Mardini.’
D.B. Patil, after whom the Navi Mumbai airport has been named, was a local politician known for standing up for farmers’ rights and protesting against the government’s land acquisition drives for development through the 1970s and 1980s.
Patil was a five-time MLA from Panvel, a town in Navi Mumbai, starting from the 1950s. He was associated with the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) and had also served as a Member of Parliament and a Member of Legislative Council. He is known to have led many farmers and landowners in protests against the City and Industrial Development Corporation — the state government agency in charge of the infrastructure development of the Navi Mumbai region — demanding fair compensation for the acquisition of their land for various development projects.
Patil’s supporters have held several protests and demonstrations to strongly demand that CIDCO name the new airport after their leader.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
Also Read: ‘Dissolution should not be 1st option’ — NCP ‘miffed’ but MVA partners back Sena amid rebellion